Starring Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, Elaine Stritch, Bernard Hill, Jodelle Ferland, Tempestt Bledsoe, Alex Borstein, John Goodman
Directed by Chris Butler & Sam Fell
Expectations: Fairly low. I’m only watching this because my girlfriend talked me into it.
The older I get the more I don’t understand adults who like kids’ movies. Well, let me rephrase that. I don’t understand adults who like modern kids’ movies. If you have kids you get a pass because you’re going to see them anyway, so you might as well grow a taste for them. But I don’t have kids, so enjoying or even bothering with modern kids’ movies makes no sense to me. They’re clearly not for me, they’re for kids. So good riddance, and thanks but no thanks. But every once in a while, one comes around that even I can’t ignore, and ParaNorman is one of those films. And it’s a whole lot of fun no matter your age, especially if you enjoy horror films.
ParaNorman is about a kid named Norman (who woulda thought?) who can see ghosts. He’s labeled a freak by his classmates, and even his own father berates him on a regular basis. Norman, on the other hand, enjoys his gift, it’s just how everyone else reacts to it that gets him down. Funnily enough, Norman’s town has a history of persecuting those with a supernatural gift. There was once a witch who lived there, but the townspeople took care of her in the way that everyone took care of witches in the 18th century. And because this is a horror movie, the witch cursed the town and tonight’s the night that everything comes together for the curse’s realization.
This might sound somewhat formulaic — what horror/kids/mainstream movie isn’t? — but the way the film plays out doesn’t feel that way. It’s not without some jank, but the twists are fun and so are the characters. The bully grows into one of the best characters by the end of the film, even if he’s kinda one-note, he was the source of many of my biggest laughs. But while the writing is nice, the real standout here are the visuals.
ParaNorman is a traditional stop-motion animated film, something I wasn’t aware of going in. I thought it was just another CG-animated kids’ movie, but I’m glad I was wrong. The animation is superb, retaining enough of the stop-motion aesthetic to please the stop-motion purist in me, while still refining the techniques to the point of creating illusions that would make even Ray Harryhausen’s head spin. This one does seem to have a bit of CG here and there, but it’s so well-blended that it’s impressive instead of daring you to pick it apart. Honestly, I don’t care what techniques were used, ParaNorman looked fantastic.
ParaNorman is definitely one to check out, horror fans, even if you don’t have kids. It took a little while to warm me up to it, but after this initial phase I was locked in and having a great time with it. It’s a fun, fast-moving, horror family comedy that also packs in a lot of genuine drama as well. In a lot of ways it reminded me of an ’80s kids’ movie, where everything wasn’t quite so whitewashed, and it more accurately represented the kids that I knew and grew up with. ParaNorman isn’t quite at the level of The Goonies or The Monster Squad, but it’s in the same vein and I won’t be surprised when the kids of 2012 grow up and remember this one quite fondly.